Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Looking at “The Origin of the Cornucopia” and “Leda and the Swan” and How they Fit in with the Mannerist Style

            The two works of art found at the Seattle Art Museum, “The Origin of the Cornucopia” by Abraham Janssens and “Leda and the Swan and Her Children” by Vincent Sellaer, show the stylization and characteristics found during the Mannerist period of the Late Renaissance.  Both paintings depict elegant but confusing scenes, and the composition and stylization of the figures within the scenes are similar in style to other paintings done in the Mannerist style.  We can fit these paintings within the realm of Mannerism through the composition and the stylization of the figures, and by comparing the paintings with others from the time period that share similar characteristics in composition and the stylization of the figures. 

            Starting with “The Origin of the Cornucopia” from Abraham Janssens we see an unusual composition.  The viewer’s eyes are drawn to the center of the painting by following the lines of the arms that are being extended by the somewhat central figure in yellow and the right figure in blue.  Instead of drawing the eye to one of the forward figures, instead the two figures and their arms, the one in yellow and the one in blue, frame two smaller figures in the background.  And, yet, these figures don’t seem to be the main focus of the scene, they seem to be involved in their own work and maybe conversation with one another.  Instead, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the figure in blue’s hand, which seems to be pointing back toward, and to the left, of the viewer.  It is hard to tell if she means to point towards the squash on the ground or to something that is off the canvas.  The figures seem to barely fit the size of the canvas and they seemed scrunched or folded to fit within the scene.  We see a similar effect done with the Venus in Bronzino’s Allegory with Venus and Cupid.  She too seems folded and fit into the scene by her unusual posture and her folded legs.  Some of the figures in the painting of the cornucopia seem to be tensed and not quite balanced.  The figure in red, on the viewer’s left, who is stretching down to reach for the squash, seems to be leaning forward towards the viewer as well, giving a sense that he might topple forward, especially since his left leg is outstretched and not braced on the ground.  This unstable position of the figures is characteristic of Mannerist paintings and can be seen in the figures in Pontormo’s “Entombment” and in the figure of Venus in the allegory painting.

The composition of Vincent Saellaer’s painting of “Leda and the Swan and Her Children” is unusual as well.  The composition of the figures causes the eye to move in a circular movement within the scene.  Starting with the swan and Leda’s head, the eye is drawn to her eyes and her hand, both of which are directed to one of her son’s on her left side.   He is looking back at her but his arm points to her side and abdomen, and not to another figure.  His arm also forms a cross with her left arm, which seems to reach down to another son who is leaning or crawling from behind her leg.   Her left leg seems to be contorted back at an unrealistic and unnatural angle, or it’s reaches down into some hidden hole in the ground where her son appears to be crawling from.  The circular composition is interrupted by her very large leg which seems to come out at the viewer.  On the left side of the scene we have her other son who is leaning and reaching outside the scene.  The unusually large looking swan with the artificial curve of the neck, which can only be achieved if the swan was to raise it’s body up and be in a more vertical position, brings the eye back to the figure of Leda whose arm is resting unnaturally on the neck of the swan.  This circular composition is somewhat similar to Pontormo’s Entombment where the eye is drawn to the figures that form a circular composition, and where the arms point to a “dead space” in the center.

The stylization of the figures can be seen in both the paintings.  In the cornucopia scene, the figure on the right is so muscular in the arms and the shoulders, that at first it appears to be a man.  The head seems small in proportion to the body and the neck seems to be at an odd unnatural angle.  The arms seem to be very large and elongated.  The leg that can be seen looks huge with a very muscular calf.  The central figure in the foreground, her right arm seems large and her left hand on top of the cornucopia has very elongated fingers.  The figure on the left side of the scene, again has very large muscular arms, and the legs seem very long compared to the length of the torso.  All three of the main figures have unnaturally bright pink cheeks, and where the two side figures are very pale, the central figure is almost the same pink as the robe in the background.  In the Sellaer’s painting of Leda, Leda’s neck seems elongated slightly and her shoulders look somewhat small compared to her head.  She too has the elongated fingers and the enormous leg that seems to reach into the viewer’s space.  The elongated fingers and disproportionate front leg can also be viewed in Parmiagianino’s Madonna with the Long Kneck.  The Madonna’s leg is very large in comparison to the size of her torso.

We can see through the composition and the stylization of the figures of the paintings of Janssens and Sellaer that they both fit into the Mannerist style, even though Janssen’s The Origin of the Cornucopia wasn’t done until the 17th century.  The both have unusual composition that reflect similar characteristics found in the painting of Pontormo’s Entombment from the period.  They also share stylization of the figures, the elongation of the fingers and hand, the disproportionate large or long limbs, and the unusual colors that can be seen in the paintings of Bronzino’s Allegory with Venus and Cupid and in Parmigianino’s Madonna with the Long Neck.

1 comment:

  1. The composition of these two paintings is very different from earlier Renaissance artwork. Instead of utilizing triangular or pyramidal compositions, artists began using a more circular configuration. The scene of both paintings is incredibly chaotic and it is hard for me to determine the focus. Nice post!

    Hannah Bennett